“If it was up to me, I wouldn’t cook,” confides one of the women interviewed in a recent university study, which argued that an increasingly idealized vision of home-cooked meals overburdens poor and working mothers. For 23 years I’ve been responsible for the family meal, and while I haven’t faced the same challenges of the women interviewed, on most days I’d have to agree with them. At first glance the work we do in the kitchen can seem hardly worth the effort.
A follow-up Slate article blamed a “romanticized” view of the home-cooked meal, citing media models going all the way back to June Cleaver. I suspect the disconnect between ideal and reality could be traced much further back. Maybe all the way to the ancient man and woman standing in a garden, wondering how to get the fruit off the forbidden tree.
I don’t know the formula for making the perfect evening meal a reality, but I know a few things. Food matters, stewardship of our bodies and earth matter, meals and life-giving rhythms matter. On these goals the Slate article and I agree. I would add another ingredient to the recipe: community. The people we gather around our table matter.
Community is a key ingredient in the way we approach meals as Christians. When we look for ways to live like Christ, it’s no small thing to notice the Son of Man came eating and drinking. And He wasn’t eating alone. Jesus approached the mealtime so fervently people wanted to kill Him. On the night He was betrayed to executioners, He had just come from a meal with friends.
Meals are a central theme throughout the Biblical narrative. The Bible begins with a garden picnic and ends with a banquet. In between, we follow the instructions of Christ, who told us to get together to eat and drink as the primary way to remember Him.
Community is a key ingredient in the way we approach meals as Christians.
In his excellent book A Meal with Jesus, Tim Chester reminds us of another key ingredient in our pursuit of the ordinary home-cooked meal - the realization that we can’t do this on our own: "Eating is an expression of our dependence. God made us in such a way that we need to eat …Every time we eat, we celebrate again our dependence on God and his faithfulness to his creation.”
Even if I do manage to get just the right food to the table at just the right time with just the right people, I had to rely on a whole community of unseen people who played a role in our evening meal. This sort of dependence is a good thing.
So how we do we walk out the tension between the consumer-driven ideal of the home-cooked meal and a timeless redemptive enactment? I suspect I’ll be asking the same question until I’m stirring soup in one hand and leaning on a cane in the other. I know the key ingredients will always include a grateful dependence and a dish to pass around a hospitable table.
The researchers summarized their study with an excellent call to action: “[L]et’s move this conversation out of the kitchen, and brainstorm more creative solutions for sharing the work of feeding families. How about a revival of monthly town suppers, or healthy food trucks?”
Might I add church suppers and potlucks and come-to-dinner invitations? Come hungry, come together, come with the hope that our efforts reach beyond our frustrations. Each meal is another opportunity to recognize our need and to be grateful.